Kentuckians help avoid war in Utah

By John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard

Col. Albert Sidney Johnston leads U.S. troops escorting Alfred Cummings, the newly appointed governor of Utah Territory to Salt Lake City, October, 1858. A regiment of Soldiers was mobilized to establish order during a Brigham Young-led Mormon rebellion in the western territory.

The Utah Expedition, known also as the Utah War, Utah Campaign, Buchanan’s Blunder, the Mormon War and Mormon Rebellion, was an armed political, economic, military and religious confrontation between Mormon settlers in the Utah Territory and the U. S. Military, in 1857 – 1858.

On June 29, 1857, President James Buchanan declared Utah in a state of rebellion against the United States, and mobilized a regiment of the U.S. Army, to act as an escort for new federal officials’ move to Utah and to establish order and enforce the laws of the United States. He appointed Alfred Cumming governor of Utah, replacing Brigham Young, who had been appointed to the post by President Millard Fillmore in 1850. Young was the head of Utah’s dominant religion, the Mormons and chief executive of the territory.

In August, 1857, Brigham Young publicly discussed the possible secession of the Mormon “Kingdom of God” from the U. S. and announces, “We must have the Kingdom of God, or nothing. We are not to be overthrown.” He declared martial law in the Utah Territory.

A month later the Mountain Meadow Attack and Massacre occurs when an emigrant wagon train of non-Mormons headed to California entered Utah Territory. The train was attacked by Mormon militia dressed as Paiute Indians, 120-140 non-Mormon settlers were murdered in the attack and the following massacre. By mid-September, Young called out the Nauvoo Legion (consisting of the Deseret and Utah Territorial Militias) to fight U.S. troops should they enter Utah.

On Sept. 18, Col. Edmund Alexander, in command of U.S. Troops leaves Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, headed for Utah. On October 5, his supply train is attacked by the Nauvoo Legion, in a guerrilla-style raid, the Legion destroys fifty-two wagons of the supply train.

On Nov. 3, Alexander is replaced in command by Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, a native of Washington, Kentucky, at the time serving as commander of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Due to the lateness of the season, Johnston orders the regiment to spend the winter at Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory and await spring to move against Salt Lake City.

During the winter months, negotiations were held to resolve the differences between the two factions.

In February, 1858 it was determined by authorities in Washington that an additional armed force comprising volunteers would be sent to Utah to assist in bringing the rebellious Mormons to terms.

February 25, 1858. H. R. 313,

. . . To authorize the President to call into the service of the

United States four additional regiments of volunteers. [Quitman Army Bill]

Sec. 4. That, for the purpose of quelling disturbances in the Territory of Utah, for the protection of supply and emigrant trains, and . . . the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to call for and accept the services of any number of volunteers, not to exceed in all four regiments, of seven hundred and forty privates each; the same, or any portion thereof, to be organized in to mounted regiments or infantry, as the President may deem proper, to serve for the term of eighteen months from the time of their being received into service, unless sooner discharged by the President.

The Quitman Army Bill, after much debate, finally passed both houses of Congress in early April, in part, thanks to the efforts of Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky. Marshall who was serving as a Kentucky Representative delivered a speech in support of the bill. The 1939 book, Military History of Kentucky, states:

His [Marshall’s] address brought about the fact that some of the friends of the administration insisted that Regulars should be added to the extent of five regiments, complaining that the Army’s strength had been neglected. . . “What,” he asked, “has it come to this, that Regulars, mere machines, moved by superior intelligence, must be employed to carry out the purposes of the administration? Men who cannot travel without incumbrances [sic], and who do not get beyond the smell of their pork and beans.” Colonel Marshall then showed that volunteers could be procured at once, to march upon being mustered in. He added that if the public exigencies required prompt action, it certainly was not the part of wisdom to await the slow process of recruiting Regulars. He stressed that volunteers, selected “in the west,” were equal for any emergency. Marshall’s speech resulted in a discontinuation of the attempt to add regiments to the Regular Army.

On Feb. 15, the Kentucky legislature authorized Governor Charles S. Morehead, to raise a regiment of volunteers to be offered to aid in the Utah Expedition. The Governor issued a proclamation March 6, inviting companies of 100 privates, 1 Captain, 3 lieutenants, and 8 non-commissioned officers, to volunteer for the expedition, and to report to him no later than April. Governor Morehead appointed Thomas L. Crittenden, of Frankfort, colonel; Thomas L. Hawkins, of Louisville, lieutenant colonel; James S. Jackson, of Christian County, major; and Robert Richardson, of Covington, second major. Within a month 21 companies, more than twice the number required, had tendered their service.

In Utah, on March 23, 1858, Brigham Young implemented a scorched earth policy. All faithful are ordered to move south to Provo and to prepare their homes in Salt Lake City for burning. In early April, President Buchanan issues a “Proclamation on the Rebellion in Utah,” granting a pardon for the seditions and treasons committed by the Mormons.

In late March and early April, it was reported in Kentucky papers that The Army Bill had passed:

Louisville Daily Courier

30 March 1858, p. 1.

Letter from Washington, 26 March.

            The Army bill having passed the House, will, pass the Senate. Then the question will arise, which, out of the many regiments raised in different parts of the country, will be the lucky ones and be accepted by the President. I think Col. Hawkins must have read the “Courier,” for in three days after I wrote to you the bill would pass, I saw him here on the look-out to get his regiment accepted. Col. Tom is a gallant fellow, and I think that through his promptness his regiment is first on the list for Utah. Hurrah for the Kentucky boys!

Louisville Daily Courier

03 April 1858, p. 2.

            The Army Bill.—The telegraph has informed us that the Army Bill has passed the Senate, with an amendment providing, however, for the employment of only two volunteer regiments, at the option of the President. If any regiment is accepted, it is highly probable the one now organized in Kentucky will not be slighted. In time of peace prepare for war,—so Utah boys, be ready.

While troops were still organizing in Kentucky, on April 7th, former governor Lazarus W. Powell of Kentucky and Major Benjamin McCulloch of Texas were appointed by President Buchanan as commissioners to establish peace and federal authority in Utah. Powell and McCulloch returned to Washington in August 1858, at the completion of their mission.

On April 9, a week following the passage of the Quitman Army Bill [H. R. 313] in the U.S. Congress, Governor Morehead selected 10 companies from the 21 that had been organized to compose the Kentucky Regiment. Captains who reported companies ready for service were:

  1. Captain James W. Wales, Louisville, Jefferson County.
  2. Captain Thomas H. Hanks, Anderson County.
  3. Captain Lowry J. Beard, Lexington, Fayette County.
  4. Captain Ben C. Trapnall, Mercer County.
  5. Captain William W. Pierce, Trimble County.
  6. Captain John Hardin McHenry, Jr., Daviess County.
  7. Captain J. Rogers, Louisville, Jefferson County.
  8. Captain Thomas Edwin Moore, Pendleton County.
  9. Captain Adair, Union County.
  10. Captain Reese, Covington, Kenton County.
  11. Captain John Donan, Hart County.
  12. Captain Albert G. Bacon, Franklin County.
  13. Captain Joseph C. Dear, Shelby County.
  14. Captain John James Landram, Gallatin County.
  15. Captain Miller, Christian County, initially commanded by James Jackson.
  16. Captain George W. Gist, Montgomery County.
  17. Captain Cowan, Boyle County.
  18. Captain A. Wake Holeman, Owen County.
  19. Captain Daniel, Owsley County.
  20. Captain William McCavock Booker, Washington County.
  21. Captain [Dr.] Alexander Forsythe, Louisville, Jefferson County. (Forsyth)

Two individuals reported companies without a roll of officers or men; one of these by W. M. Fulkerson of Breathitt County, and the other by A. L. Sanders of Carroll County. The Governor would not recognize their reports on account of this deficiency.

The first ten companies listed above composed the Kentucky Regiment designed for Utah service.

There was a decided antagonism in some quarters of the state to sending Kentucky troops to Utah. On March 29, the Louisville Daily Courier reported that an attempt to organize a company in Bardstown had been a “signal failure,” and stated that “the young men there were not patriotic.” George D. Prentice, editor of the Louisville Daily Journal, made caustic comments which produced little effect on the ardor of the state’s troops. Among Prentice’s comments were these which appeared in the April 17 and May 12 editions of his paper:

We beg leave to suggest as a reason why the administration should accept the Utah volunteers from Kentucky that they are universally admitted to be among the most virtuous young men in the United States. If young fellows are a great deal readier to volunteer to go and fight men who have fifty wives apiece than those who have only one apiece, what are we to infer that they are after the men or the women.

The editor of the Louisville Daily Courier responded to Prentice’s caustic comments towards the Kentucky Volunteers with the following statement on May 22:

The editor of the Journal is so much of a Mormon himself that he images the Utah volunteers are after Brigham’s wives, instead of the honor and dignity of their country.

Governor Cummings and the U.S. Army arrived in Salt Lake City April 12, 1858. Young surrendered the title of governor to Cumming thus ending the “Utah Expedition.”

The Kentucky Volunteer Regiment was never called into service by President Buchanan and was soon disbanded when news came that the Mormons had accepted the Government’s proposals, borne to them by Powell and McCulloch.

On June 3rd the Louisville Daily Courier made the following comment in connection to the Kentucky Regiment and the end of the Utah Expedition:

It is announced that the two new “regiments for Utah” won’t be called out, so our Kentucky braves may as well subside into civil life.—The “pomp and circumstance of war,” it seems, is not for them. Such is life.

Although Kentucky troops did not see action against Brigham Young and his Mormon Militia, Kentucky and Kentuckians once again proved their patriotism, chivalry and support of the Federal government. Not only as warriors, but also as peacekeepers, from the passage of resolutions and actions of Governor Morehead and the Kentucky Legislature, to the rapid organization of the Kentucky Regiment, Col. Humphrey Marshall’s speech in support for the passage of the Quitman Army Bill, Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, a Kentuckian, who commanded the Regular Army in Utah, to former Kentucky governor Lazarus W. Powell, who acted as a Peace Commissioner. These men placed Kentucky at the forefront during this national emergency.